SPARCS Conference Topics 2014

SPARCS Conference Topics 2014

Friday June 20th 2014

AGGRESSION: NOT A UNITARY BEHAVIOR – Ray Coppinger, PhD

Measurable motor patterns fall into three categories: foraging behaviors, reproductive behaviors and hazard-avoidance behaviors. Within each category there are subsets of social behavior, labeled aggressive behaviors, where the animal defends food or its sources, seeks reproductive access, or defends itself from perceived harm. Understanding aggressiveness can only be accomplished by understanding both the anxiety or arousal that initiates the aggressive performance (food, reproduction, or fear) as well as the internal reward(s) for performing aggressive behavior.

Learning Goals:

  • Understanding motor patterns when interpreting aggression
  • Examining the benefits of aggressiveness through foraging success, reproductive success, and avoiding hazards
  • Understanding how anxiety and arousal initiates these motor patterns

INDIVIDUAL AND BREED DIFFERENCES IN AGGRESSION – James Serpell, PhD

This presentation will explore current evidence for individual and breed differences in canine aggression, and the extent to which genetic and environmental factors contribute to these differences. It will also compare and contrast the variety of systems currently used to classify aggressive behavior in dogs. These topics are relevant to how we manage aggression in individual dogs, and the appropriateness or not of breed-specific restrictions as a means of preventing dog bites.

Learning Goals:

  • To draw attention to what we do and don’t know about aggression in dogs
  • To clarify the relative contributions of genes and the environment to dog aggression
  • To encourage critical evaluation of the evidence

THE NEUROSCIENCE, ETHOLOGY AND SEMIOTICS OF SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR: GET YOUR ETHOGRAMS AND SEMIOGRAMS READY! – Simon Gadbois, PhD

This presentation will discuss both the methodological issues pertaining to the study of canid agonistic behavior as well as our conceptualization of aggression through the disciplines of psychology, ethology, behavioural ecology and neuroscience. Zoosemiotics is a field related to ethology which studies the sounds and signals animals use to communicate. In both ethological and zoosemiotic models, aggression and submission are always dynamic and in context. Challenges relating to this conceptualization of agonistic behaviours will be examined using Fentress’ action sequences, which move beyond FAPs and MAPs and represent without a doubt the modern perspective on behavior patterns. Perspectives from the Canid Behaviour Research Team at Dalhousie University and 30 years of data from the Canadian Centre for Wolf Research will be discussed in addition with the coyote situation in Nova Scotia to illustrate issues regarding definitions and theoretical perspectives on aggression.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the complexity of studying dynamic social interactions in real time
  • To learn the richness of the concept of behavioral and social “rules”
  • Appreciation of the different theoretical and conceptual perspective on aggression, including in the context of social conflicts

BARKING AND CONFLICT – Kathryn Lord, PhD

Dogs seemingly bark in any situation, initially leading scientists to suggest barking had no function. However, dogs also vary the sound of their barks in different situations, so a bark at a stranger does not sound the same as a bark during a game of fetch. This variation has led to the hypothesis that barking is a form of communication with humans selected to benefit us. However, dogs are not the only animals to bark. This vocalization appears in numerous mammals and birds. In this talk I will discuss how investigation into other animals and the acoustics of the bark itself suggest that the bark is associated with a conflicted motivational state. I will also present new research testing these two hypotheses against each other.

Learning Goals

  • To understand the current evidence for the function of barking in dogs
  • To understand evolution can happen as a byproduct of other selection
  • To understand how the broader scientific field of animal behavior and comparison to other animals can inform us about dog behavior

I SEE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING: TRANSLATING CONFLICT-RELATED VISUAL SIGNALS – Patricia McConnell, PhD

Technically or officially a dog is a wolf (Canis lupus). Some would smile and say the dog is a sub-species of wolf (Canis lupus familiarus). A picture is worth a thousand words, and dogs “paint” pictures for us all the time through their movements and expressions. This interactive presentation will focus on video and audio recordings that can fine-tune our ability to evaluate what we are seeing and hearing. We’ll watch and listen as dogs interact with one another in situations related to conflict or agonistic behavior. No matter how skilled we are at “reading” dogs, we all can improve our ability to translate from dog to human. We can also take this opportunity to question our beliefs and assumptions about what specific actions actually mean—how much of them are based on good, solid science, and how much is based on a good guess? We’ll talk about this and more, while watching and listening to dogs communicating in their native language, while we “second language learners” try to keep up.

Learning Goals:

  • To be able to recognize the visual signs of conflict and agonistic behavior
  • To understand how to translate from dog to human
  • To examine the quality of the science behind our understanding of the visual signs of dog behavior

Saturday June 21st 2014

THE PHENOTYPE OF MOLECULES: WHY NATURE VS. NURTURE IS THE WRONG QUESTION – Prescott Breeden, BM

When naturalists and psychologists began collaborating in the mid 20th century, debates fuelled speculation whether behaviors were instinctive or learned. Such dilemmas were not new. Since the time of ancient Greece, philosophers have debated whether our destiny is predetermined or whether it is our experiences that make us who we are. But what if we’ve been asking the wrong question?

No matter how large or small, the life of any organism is tied to the functional requirements of a single cell involving a small number of molecules. Consider that approximately 93% of the human body is composed of just hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. How is it possible for life to be so extremely variable with so few molecules? What does homeostasis and equilibrium have to do with the conflict of nature vs. nurture? Is my dog friendly because of how they were raised or because of their genes? This talk will reorganize these questions, not to weigh them against the other, but rather to show how nature and nurture are inseparable concepts.

Learning Goals:

  • Understanding how molecules shape evolution by examining how homeostasis and equilibrium are at constant odds
  • To understand how the chaos and determinism of behavioral genetics simultaneously produce consistency, variety, and malfunction that results in the expression of personality
  • To reformulate a new question that doesn’t pit nature against nurture

OVERVIEW OF RESEARCH ON TEMPERAMENT AND PERSONALITY OF DOGS – Sam Gosling, PhD

In the late 1990s, the scientific community treated the idea of non-human animals having personality with skepticism or even ridicule. Little more than a decade later, the personality of non-human animals is not only well established but a vibrant area of research in such fields as behavioral ecology and applied ethology. Consistent individual differences in personality have been identified in numerous non-human species ranging from octopuses and guppies to hyenas and chimpanzees. What brought about animal personality’s change in fortunes? And what promise does it hold for canine research and practice?

This talk will summarize major discoveries in personality research and discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Using data from our studies of dogs and other species, I will address each challenge and evaluate the viability of personality assessments in dogs: including concerns regarding anthropomorphism; determining the best level at which to conceptualize personality; the need to develop a common taxonomy for describing personality; the importance of construct validation; and integrating the ideas of variation within individuals and across the lifespan. Finally, I shall consider the implications of this work in science (such as understanding the genetic bases of personality) and application settings (such as identifying dogs well suited to explosive-detection work).

Learning Goals

  • To understand basic issues in measurement that have a bearing on personality assessments of dogs
  • To understand the basics of what is known about personality in dogs and other nonhuman animals
  • To develop an understanding of the key issues in canine personality measurement that lie ahead

WHY DO BREEDS OF DOGS BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY – Ray Coppinger, PhD

My life has been involved with working dogs. When we note that there are three hundred plus breeds of dogs in the world we often think of them performing some task. And some of us think that a specific breed can perform that task better than any other breed and or species. For example modern racing sled dogs are the fastest running animal in the world for marathon distances. If I wanted to herd sheep I’d get a border collie and if I wanted a dog to protect sheep I’d get myself a livestock guarding dog. Why am I such a breed chauvinist for the specific relationship I want with a dog? Simply, breeds behave differently and we should discuss why that is.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the discipline of Ethology. How does an ethologist study behavior?
  • To study the evolution of breeds. How do breeds of working dogs come about?
  • To understand the anatomical and physiological differences of breeds

WHAT THE C-BARQ CAN TELL US ABOUT HUMAN TEMPERAMENT – James Serpell, PhD

The presentation will examine differences in temperament among a range of popular dog breeds based on owner responses to a standardized and validated behavioral questionnaire (C-BARQ©—Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire). It will show how some breed-associated temperament traits (e.g. fear/anxiety) may be linked to specific gene mutations, while others may represent more general behavioral legacies of ‘ancient’ ancestry, physical deformity, and/or human selection for specific working or functional abilities. The role of environmental effects such as breed-specific differences in owners’ tolerance of behavioral problems will also be discussed.

Learning Goals:

  • To introduce the C-BARQ, and why and how it was developed
  • To illustrate how it can be used to further our understanding of the behavioral diversity of dogs
  • To demonstrate the complexity of dog evolution

IT IS NOT WHAT YOU LIKE, BUT WHAT YOU WANT THAT COUNTS: THE NEUROCHEMISTRY OF BEHAVIOUR AND MOTIVATION – Simon Gadbois, PhD

This presentation will explain the wanting and liking system behind Kent Berridge’s theory of motivation. I will link this neuroethological perspective (and others such as Panksepp’s seeking system) to behaviour, personality and motivation. The relevance of this perspective on motivation will be explained in the context of learning (including training protocols) and olfactory processing. This talk will be focused on the working dog and their related training issues.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the basic “systems neuroscience” of motivation
  • To understand the interplay between cognitive, conative (motivational) and affective systems in the brain
  • Exploration of the relevance of neuroscience to personality theory in canines, as well as its relevance to breed choices for working dogs

Sunday June 22nd 2014

THE PHENOTYPE OF MOLECULES: WHY NATURE VS. NURTURE IS THE WRONG QUESTION – Prescott Breeden, BM

When naturalists and psychologists began collaborating in the mid 20th century, debates fuelled speculation whether behaviors were instinctive or learned. Such dilemmas were not new. Since the time of ancient Greece, philosophers have debated whether our destiny is predetermined or whether it is our experiences that make us who we are. But what if we’ve been asking the wrong question?

No matter how large or small, the life of any organism is tied to the functional requirements of a single cell involving a small number of molecules. Consider that approximately 93% of the human body is composed of just hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. How is it possible for life to be so extremely variable with so few molecules? What does homeostasis and equilibrium have to do with the conflict of nature vs. nurture? Is my dog friendly because of how they were raised or because of their genes? This talk will reorganize these questions, not to weigh them against the other, but rather to show how nature and nurture are inseparable concepts.

Learning Goals:

  • Understanding how molecules shape evolution by examining how homeostasis and equilibrium are at constant odds
  • To understand how the chaos and determinism of behavioral genetics simultaneously produce consistency, variety, and malfunction that results in the expression of personality
  • To reformulate a new question that doesn’t pit nature against nurture

OVERVIEW OF RESEARCH ON TEMPERAMENT AND PERSONALITY OF DOGS – Sam Gosling, PhD

In the late 1990s, the scientific community treated the idea of non-human animals having personality with skepticism or even ridicule. Little more than a decade later, the personality of non-human animals is not only well established but a vibrant area of research in such fields as behavioral ecology and applied ethology. Consistent individual differences in personality have been identified in numerous non-human species ranging from octopuses and guppies to hyenas and chimpanzees. What brought about animal personality’s change in fortunes? And what promise does it hold for canine research and practice?

This talk will summarize major discoveries in personality research and discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Using data from our studies of dogs and other species, I will address each challenge and evaluate the viability of personality assessments in dogs: including concerns regarding anthropomorphism; determining the best level at which to conceptualize personality; the need to develop a common taxonomy for describing personality; the importance of construct validation; and integrating the ideas of variation within individuals and across the lifespan. Finally, I shall consider the implications of this work in science (such as understanding the genetic bases of personality) and application settings (such as identifying dogs well suited to explosive-detection work).

Learning Goals

  • To understand basic issues in measurement that have a bearing on personality assessments of dogs
  • To understand the basics of what is known about personality in dogs and other nonhuman animals
  • To develop an understanding of the key issues in canine personality measurement that lie ahead

WHY DO BREEDS OF DOGS BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY – Ray Coppinger, PhD

My life has been involved with working dogs. When we note that there are three hundred plus breeds of dogs in the world we often think of them performing some task. And some of us think that a specific breed can perform that task better than any other breed and or species. For example modern racing sled dogs are the fastest running animal in the world for marathon distances. If I wanted to herd sheep I’d get a border collie and if I wanted a dog to protect sheep I’d get myself a livestock guarding dog. Why am I such a breed chauvinist for the specific relationship I want with a dog? Simply, breeds behave differently and we should discuss why that is.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the discipline of Ethology. How does an ethologist study behavior?
  • To study the evolution of breeds. How do breeds of working dogs come about?
  • To understand the anatomical and physiological differences of breeds

WHAT THE C-BARQ CAN TELL US ABOUT HUMAN TEMPERAMENT – James Serpell, PhD

The presentation will examine differences in temperament among a range of popular dog breeds based on owner responses to a standardized and validated behavioral questionnaire (C-BARQ©—Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire). It will show how some breed-associated temperament traits (e.g. fear/anxiety) may be linked to specific gene mutations, while others may represent more general behavioral legacies of ‘ancient’ ancestry, physical deformity, and/or human selection for specific working or functional abilities. The role of environmental effects such as breed-specific differences in owners’ tolerance of behavioral problems will also be discussed.

Learning Goals:

  • To introduce the C-BARQ, and why and how it was developed
  • To illustrate how it can be used to further our understanding of the behavioral diversity of dogs
  • To demonstrate the complexity of dog evolution

IT IS NOT WHAT YOU LIKE, BUT WHAT YOU WANT THAT COUNTS: THE NEUROCHEMISTRY OF BEHAVIOUR AND MOTIVATION – Simon Gadbois, PhD

This presentation will explain the wanting and liking system behind Kent Berridge’s theory of motivation. I will link this neuroethological perspective (and others such as Panksepp’s seeking system) to behaviour, personality and motivation. The relevance of this perspective on motivation will be explained in the context of learning (including training protocols) and olfactory processing. This talk will be focused on the working dog and their related training issues.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the basic “systems neuroscience” of motivation
  • To understand the interplay between cognitive, conative (motivational) and affective systems in the brain
  • Exploration of the relevance of neuroscience to personality theory in canines, as well as its relevance to breed choices for working dogs

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